Hey! Today I got something special prepared for you! About a week ago I came across an incredible project ICONSPEAK — t-shirts designed to ease the communication with locals wherever you go. It comes in handy when you are in a foreign country with no knowledge of the local language whatsoever. After all, icons are a global visual language!
I wish I found out about these t-shirts before my Thailand trip! There were times when talking to the locals was beyond difficult if possible at all.
I’m sure many of you saw articles about the ICONSPEAK tees in your news feeds. Maybe you even thought, “Damn, why haven’t I come up with this idea?!” I know I did! Anyway, the traveler’s t-shirt went viral with the speed of light, but what do we know about people that made this brilliant concept a reality? I felt obliged to right this injustice and talk to the masterminds that invented a t-shirt that has a potential to change traveling experience for everybody.
So without further ado, lets jump straight to the interview:
As far as I know, you are a team of three, right? I would love to hear a little bit about each of you: could you briefly introduce yourselves? What are your backgrounds? How did you meet each other?
You are correct Justas, we ware just the two of us on the trip, Florian and me (Georg). We travelled together through Asia and the Motorbike trip through Vietnam was an essential part of it. Before that – 2009-2012 we were study mates at the Bern University of Applied Sciences. Steven is a very good friend of us. He knows both of us since many years and has always been a trusted partner when it came to questions about brand-philosophy, communication, and design. Steven has quite some experience in that area and we were happy that he was immediately convinced of our idea. So we decided to found our company together. Timeline wise, Vietnam was 2013 – official founding took place in January 2016.
You must be really well-traveled to come up with such ideas. I reckon you have a lot of great stories, but what was your by far most ridiculous experience?
There are many that we prefer not to share with the internet 😉 And then there are some other very nice ones that make travelling so special -like e.g. once as Steven was offered a job as a salesman, just like that, as he went to buy some cigarettes..
Can you tell us in a few words how this amazing t-shirt idea was born?
The idea was really born in Vietnam as Florian and I stranded in the outback. The story that we shared in our blog is not invented – it is exactly how it happened. You can find our blog here.
If you want more details you can read the whole story in my private blog from back then: www.horntobewild.blogspot.com
How did you decide on which icons to use? Was it a lightbulb moment or did you rely entirely on your own travel experience? Did you do some kind of research beforehand?
During our whole process we were permanently reminded by a quote of Donald Norman:
“Don’t make something unless its both, necessary and useful. But if it is both necessary and useful, don’t hesitate to make it beautiful”.
So just like the people at your office, we thought its a cool and useful product and we spent quite some effort on making it beautiful and neat. In the discussion and selection process we came across some icons that were on the long list – but did not make it into the final edition. E.g. topics like food or animals were discussed intensely. We decided to really make the world edition “essential” and did not list multiple food options or dishes – just one. Also, if you would take one animal – where would you stop? All these options were assigned to topics and plans for future shirts and other products. There is way more potential than “just” a world edition shirt with most essential icons. We are developing our products (language and shirts) further and are inviting individuals and institutions from all over the world to participate in this venture. We already have many collaborations in the making and are open for more. Inquiries reach us every day through [email protected].
Did you encounter any problems during your journey from the idea to actual t-shirts and a shop to sell them? If yes, how did you overcome them?
We are three young men and are always on the go. Each of us is involved in multiple projects and we all live in different locations. Hence communication is essential to us and our venture here at iconspeak. We are using many project management tools and little helpers that allow us to organize our work efficiently. Also we have a very open communication culture – as we are friends – so we always “put the fish on the table” as a former professor of Florian and myself used to say.
What are your future plans with ICONSPEAK?
We have many plans in the pocket and we have even more ideas. There are so many applications of our icon language – and a global interest. Best is to stay tuned through our social media accounts:
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram.
Thats it! Aren’t these guys awesome? Hope you enjoyed very first interview on the Icon Utopia. Many more to come! Cheers!